The biggest questions in the NHL this summer

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The draft and free agency are in the rearview mirror and soon folks across the NHL will pack up for their lake houses and get lost for a few weeks (sources say a few are already off to a head start).

Though this offseason doesn’t project to be a particularly newsy one in the NHL, there are several things on the docket to monitor:


All season we heard murmurs of Erik Karlsson being plucked away from Ottawa; hey, wasn’t it supposed to happen at the trade deadline? And then the draft? And then maybe on the eve of free agency?

Something could get done this summer. Remember, not all deals need an event peg; the jaw-dropping Tyler Seguin trade from Boston to Dallas went down on July 4, 2013.

The Vegas Golden Knights are the front-runners, considering they’ve already had meaningful talks regarding Karlsson around the trade deadline, and they have ample salary-cap space to get it done — and also have room to take on Bobby Ryan‘s bloated contract, which might be a prerequisite for Ottawa. Any of the New York City-area teams could sneakily get involved, and of course, the Tampa Bay Lightning are lurking. Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman can flex his wizard status in maneuvering an already loaded roster (and he has the prospects in the system to put together a strong offer).

And whenever it is that Karlsson signs a new deal — and with whomever it is — expect it to be at minimum in the range of Drew Doughty, who just signed an extension for $11 million per year.

Domestic violence cases

Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov‘s petition to have his 2015 domestic violence charges dismissed was granted by the Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday. That brings the 28-year-old Voynov one step closer to his goal of returning to the NHL. Voynov still needs to navigate some immigration issues, but if that’s sorted out, the NHL — the only of the four major professional sports leagues without a domestic violence policy — is going to have to figure out a plan for re-entry.

Voynov is technically on Los Angeles’ voluntary retirement list, but the team retains his rights. According to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the Kings have the ability to trade those rights if they choose. Ultimately, there could be an independent investigation by the NHL, and the decision will land on the desk of Daly and commissioner Gary Bettman.

“At the time everything happened, he was dealing immediately with legal issues and immigration issues,” Daly said in Las Vegas before the NHL Awards. “He really was not in a position where he could allow us to investigate in any meaningful way. And then he ended up going back to the KHL. Really, in a lot respects, we’re starting from ground zero with him in terms for understanding exactly what happened, what transpired since, what all the circumstances are. Obviously, all of those would go into any ultimate decision by Gary [Bettman] as to his eligibility to play.”

The league is also monitoring a situation involving Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson.

On June 16, Watson and his girlfriend were parked at a Shell gas station in Franklin, Tennessee, “having an argument about her drinking and not being able to attend a wedding,” according to the affidavit of complaint obtained by ESPN. A witness flagged down a police officer, who responded to the scene. The officer found red marks on the woman’s chest, according to the affidavit, and Watson admitted to pushing her. Watson was arrested. He is being charged with a misdemeanor assault.

Watson’s June 28 court date was pushed back to July 24. The league says it will monitor the situation, letting the legal process play out before determining how to handle it.

The Stanley Cup goes international

The Stanley Cup is coming in hot, starting the summer with a trip to Russia — first appearing at the World Cup, then making its way to Moscow for Alex Ovechkin‘s official fete.

Overall, the trophy will be logging a ton of air miles this summer, with eight countries represented on the Capitals’ winning roster. On Aug. 24, the Cup will be heading to Humboldt, Saskatchewan, home of the Humboldt Broncos. It will technically be Saskatchewan native Chandler Stephenson‘s day with the Cup, though the NHL is planning to put on an event, including a skills competition, with other NHLers such as Brayden Schenn making the trip.

Extensions

One of the hottest trends in the NHL? Locking in star players to a long-term extension before they can hit the open market in free agency. (See: Logan Couture, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Doughty and Ryan McDonagh this offseason already). John Tavares feeling like he “owed it to himself” to flirt with other options — and of course, picking his hometown Maple Leafs? That’s going to be the anomaly.

The Blue Jackets want to lock in Artemi Panarin (who becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019), but the star winger says he’s not ready to commit just yet. Other deals that are likely this summer: Seguin in Dallas and Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas, and potentially Patrik Laine in Winnipeg, Anders Lee in New York and Adam Henrique in Anaheim.

Keep an eye on Auston Matthews in Toronto; as his rookie deal expires next offseason, he was primed to sign an extension this summer (and likely still will with the team), though the Tavares addition might throw off the timeline.

Jersey leaks

Alternate jerseys are back in 2018-19! Just how many teams are getting them — Daly said “about a third of the teams” will be boasting a third jersey, though reports say that number could be higher — is unclear. The identities of all the teams that will be wearing them is also unclear.

A few have already revealed their third jerseys. The Hurricanes unveiled theirs — a black jersey with a secondary logo of double flags. As did the Coyotes — the widely lauded throwback Kachina design.

Expect more official announcements over the summer, though we’re bracing for some premature leaks as well.

The Flames are hoping for a new arena, but the process has been dragged out (and at times has been dramatic). There were serious talks between the city and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. this past fall that soured leading up to a mayoral election in October.

Negotiations should resume, especially after a May 31 letter from Councillor Jeff Davidson to the Flames said: “I officially ask your organization to commit to a new round of conversation to assess the topic of Calgary’s new event centre together.”

Flames CEO Ken King responded on June 4 with his own letter: “While we would never decline your formal request for a meeting, we do have some concerns based on past practice. We would like to have a preliminary discussion to determine what may have changed in the City’s view to warrant our re-engaging.”

Yes, this is slightly less romantic than “The Notebook.”

Nonetheless, something could happen soon. But don’t be surprised if you don’t hear much about it. King’s letter ended with a plea to limit the leaks and comments to the press. “Moreover, if we are to proceed, a simple and pre-emptive imperative is media silence. … Public and/or media involvement must only be rendered in the event of an agreement.”

Prospect tournaments

Though some teams still need to hold their development camps, another great way to get a peek of the future is at prospect tournaments. The Traverse City tournament occurs in the gorgeous lake community in Michigan from Sept. 7-11, and will feature top prospects from the Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Rangers, Hurricanes, Wild, Stars and Blues.

In recent years, Buffalo has hosted a similar tournament in September (featuring the Sabres, Bruins, Devils and Penguins) while London, Ontario, is the site of a tournament with the Maple Leafs’, Canadiens’ and Senators’ prospects.

From Sept. 7-9, the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, British Columbia, features two games between the top prospects from the Jets and Canucks, as well as a two-game series between the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and U Sports champion University of Alberta Golden Bears.

There should also be a tournament in Florida (last year’s participants included the Panthers, Predators, Lightning and Capitals) as well as California (last year’s participants included the Sharks, Ducks, Avalanche and Coyotes).

NHL in Seattle

The NHL is poised to expand to 32 teams, and the newest addition will be Seattle.

Right?

At this point, it feels like an inevitability, especially since there’s already an ownership group in place (the Oak View Group, led by investment banker David Bonderman, longtime sports executive Tim Leiweke and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer) and arena (OVG reached a $660 million agreement with the city to renovate KeyArena in downtown Seattle). OVG has already submitted expansion paperwork, including a $10 million down payment, to the NHL. What’s more: In March, the group launched a season-ticket drive and said it reached 25,000 deposits within the first hour. That exceeds the goal of 10,000 deposits — which was reached in the first 12 minutes. We’re just waiting for some finality. So when can we get final word?

Bettman said he expects the Board of Governors to vote on Seattle’s addition “in the fall, early winter at the latest.”

“There is a lot of due diligence that has to be done, a lot of interaction with the prospective ownership group, David Bonderman’s group,” Bettman said at a press conference before the Stanley Cup Final. “And so, we think we’re on target. And depending on how everything goes, it wouldn’t surprise me that there is a possibility that in the fall, early winter at the latest, that this could be addressed by the Board. But we’re not there yet. And there is still work to be done.”

The group, meanwhile, is busy at work. In June, OVG announced it brought on longtime NHL coach Dave Tippett as a senior advisor.



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